Is the European Green Transition leaving (indigenous) people behind?

By Yblin Román Escobar, SDG Watch Europe

The good, the bad and the ugly of the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD).

Climate neutrality and the upcoming mining rush?

At the launch of the last IPCC report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “A climate time bomb is ticking.” Global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius would devastate Earth’s people and ecosystems.

It is thus encouraging to see the EU’s ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and combating climate change.

Nevertheless, the EU cannot afford to disregard sustainability and the SDGs while addressing Climate Change.  

EU’s twin green and digital transition has a huge hunger for raw materials. “We are witnessing a new rush to extractivism”, warned the deputy secretary general of the EEB, Patrizia Heidegger, in Brussels. “The debate in Europe is focused on securing our access to natural resources as if we had a natural right to resources in the ground of our own communities and the communities in other countries”, she said.

As Antonia Zimmerman articulated, Europe is in front of a green conundrum: Can it mine essential minerals without harming nature?

To secure enough raw materials and the EU’ strategic autonomy, the European commission drafted legislation such as the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA).

Does the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) pose a risk to nature?

Yes. Under the new CRMA, mining plans could be considered strategic and prioritised if they conflict with other EU laws, such as biodiversity or Natura 2000.

Companies in the mining industry have long advocated relaxing environmental regulations. Their call is gaining traction now with “climate mining” or “green mining”. NGOs challenge the notion of “green mining”, saying, “it is a myth.” 

Most of the EU’s known reserves of critical raw materials are located in or near protected areas. Zimmermann quotes industry leaders saying, “the EU must make concessions to nature protection if it wants to exploit them.”

Science, however, is clear: nature supports the majority of the global GDP through the services it provides to people, such as clean air, food, and water, and biodiversity supports human livelihoods and well-being.  

What about the impact of the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) on justice and democracy?

Climate change discussions place the burden of responsibility and sacrifice on the most vulnerable – these are, generally, indigenous and local populations. Because they defend their territorial rights, they are painted as opponents of climate change solutions, according to a UN report

In Sweden, for instance, one of the EU’s largest ore- and metal-producing countries with an expanding mining industry, the largest mineral deposits are in the Northern, where we find the Sámi indigenous peoples.

Matti Blind Berg, chairman of the National Confederation of the Swedish Sami herders, said: “We are not against the green Transition, although the Swedish society says we stop the development…, but we do not think more mines or wind turbines are the answer to the climate crisis. We cannot destroy nature and blame it on climate change.”

Over a quarter of the world’s land surface is under indigenous peoples ownership or management, they protect 80 per cent of the remaining biodiversity and keep the ecosystems running. 

“Here in Brussels, you talk about the green Transition, but for my people, this Transition is not green -it is black. The green Transition is a threat to our existence! We are losing the land and nature we have protected for so long,” said Blind Berg.

Incorporating Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) into CRMA

In the CRMA, there are no provisions regarding human rights and environmental impacts, but the EU says the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence directive (CSDDD) will address these issues. The CSDDD was proposed by the Commission, and it is now being discussed in the European Parliament and will be taken to the Council for agreement.

CSDDD would play an important role in protecting environmental defenders, according to UN special rapporteur Michel Forst. “For me, attacks on environmental defenders are in fact, deliberate attacks intended to silence people who challenge political and economic forces, as well as the poor choices for the future of our planet,” said Forst at an event

Although promising, European Civil Society Organisations say the CSDDD proposal is not yet fit for purpose.   

Voices from the global south also share this opinion.

“The CSDDD proposal in its current format is a regression because it omits or deviates from international standards such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Besides, it would cover a very small percent of mining companies. As it is now, it would not help us on the ground,” Said  Nathalia Bonilla, from the Ecuadorian NGO Acción Ecológica, visiting the European Parliament in Brussels.

Galina Angarova, Director of the organisation Cultural Survival, pledges to incorporate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in the CSDDD text.  Matti Blind Berg reported that Indigenous people in Sweden cannot exercise the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent due to the country’s failure to ratify ILO convention 169. 

The way forward for the European decisionmakers 

Guarantee policy coherence and meaningful participation

Forus International in a recent report asserts that achieving the SDGs and climate goals requires policy coherency. Besides, sustainability and climate justice need a whole-of-society approach involving all stakeholders, particularly indigenous peoples and local communities. 

Enable the Free Prior and Informed Consent and the Right to Say No

Civil society and local and indigenous leaders urge the EU to follow through on its commitment to put democracy, justice, nature protection, and the well-being of all at the centre of the twin green and digital transition. They ask the EU to recognise the Right to Say No for local communities and Free Prior and Informed Consent rights for Indigenous peoples.

Reduce resource consumption

Our dominant economic model and its production and consumption systems are fundamentally unsustainable, according to Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environmental Agency. On this point, Janez Potočnik, former Environment Commissioner and chair of the UN International Resources Panel (IRP), calls on developed nations to reduce their absolute resource use. European NGOs advocate for the case for cutting EU resource consumption

Our material needs must be met within the limits of our planet and should not endanger achieving the SDGs.

Time is of the essence; we need a transition that is truly green and just. Without strong governance that respects human rights and democracy, the EU’s green transition risks pushing people behind.

If this happens, we all lose.

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